By JOHN HOWELL A bill introduced to clarify access to beaches could have an impact on the hundreds of homeowners on Warwick's 39 miles of shoreline. The measure would establish a 10-foot right of way from the high tide water mark on shoreline
A bill introduced to clarify access to beaches could have an impact on the hundreds of homeowners on Warwick’s 39 miles of shoreline.
The measure would establish a 10-foot right of way from the high tide water mark on shoreline properties.
Concerns over the legislation introduced by Sens. Dennis Algiere of Westerly and V. Susan Sosnowski were raised at a recent Conimicut Village Association meeting. The bill’s origin is in the House, where House Minority leader Blake Filippi introduced legislation to what he sees as an ongoing issue that is getting worse.
Last summer’s arrest of Scott Keeley, a Charlestown resident who was collecting seaweed on a South Kingstown Beach made headlines, but is not the sole reason for the bill, says Filippi. Keeley was confronted by a private security guard hired by beachfront property owners and informed he was trespassing after sitting down on the beach. According to reports, Keeley said he had the right to walk the beach, even reading the passage from the Rhode Island Constitution giving him that right. The guard called South Kingstown police who arrested Keeley after he stood up but lingered during his collection of seaweed.
Keeley brought suit against South Kingstown in federal court, an action that was settled for $25,000. Keeley told the news media he would use the money in his fight to increase shoreline access.
In an interview, association president Ginny Barham, whose waterfront property is faced with stone rip-rap to protect it from high water and erosion, questioned whether the bill if passed would allow people to walk across her lawn within a short distance of her home. At low tide there is ample room to walk on the beach. However, at high tide the water covers a portion of the protective rip-rap. The same is true for her neighbors with sea walls. At high tide the water can be more than 3 feet deep at the base of those walls.
The situation is not unique to Conimicut. Property owners in Pawtuxet, Gaspee, Highland Beach, Warwick Neck, Bayside, Nausauket, Oakland Beach, Apponaug, Chipowenoxet and Potowomut could likewise be impacted.
“We all believe in public access to beaches,” said Barham, “but are you telling me I no longer have the right to tell people to get off my lawn?”
With a right-of-way to the water beside her property she has had people walk on her land even though it is clearly not part of the access. Part of the problem, she feels, is that there is no demarcation of private property. Fences and seawalls line many of the Conimicut accesses to the water, but even so people walk along seawalls and across lawns, especially during high tides.
In an interview last week, Filippi said he is looking to clarify the law that refers to the mean high tide line as the point where
Filippi dismissed the concerns raised by Conimicut residents. Asked about the high tide line and how it applies to seawalls and other shoreline barriers, he said the bill is directed at a beach or rocky shoreline. “There’s no protection here (for people seeking to walk on seawalls and on private property behind them),” he said.
A one-line synopsis of the senate bill reads, “Provides that no person be prosecuted for fishing, gathering seaweed, swimming or passage along the sandy or rocky shoreline within ten feet (10') of the most recent high tide line.”
John Paul, who also attended the village meeting and lives on the water is sympathetic to offering access to the beach although, as he points out, he wouldn’t want fisherman camped out in his front yard.
“I have always liked the water. It’s a joy for me,” said Paul. He remembers the Jersey shore where one had to pay a fee to park and access the beach and properties on the shoreline are posted with no trespassing signs.
“That always bothers me,” he said.
Paul said he is fortunate to live on the water as well as in a community where the public has access to the water. The 10-feet from the high water mark, however, raises issues. On the one hand he can foresee certain high tides where people may need to cross his yard to get to the right-of-way. He is good with that as long as it doesn’t become an established thoroughfare.
“People are not welcome to fish from my property,” he said.
Paul has assumed the upkeep of the right-of-way adjoining his property. When he moved to Conimicut in 1995 he said the right-of-way was a hangout where there were frequent parties running late at night. The place was littered with bottles, cans and debris.
He said that has changed. People are respectful of the right-of-way and his property.